New York reached a deal Wednesday to drastically reform solitary confinement in its prison system months after it was sued by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York Times reports. About 4,000 New York inmates currently spend 23 hours per day in 60-square-foot cells. The new agreement will reduce the number of inmates in isolation by at least 25% and reduce the maximum stay in solitary to three months for most offenses. More than 50 inmates have been in isolation for more than five years, and the current average time in solitary is more than six months. According to the AP, longer stays will still be available for "extreme acts of violence" and escape attempts. “This is the end hopefully of an era where people are just thrown into the box for an unlimited amount of time on the whim of a corrections officer,” an NYCLU attorney tells the Times.
In addition to reducing the number of offenses punishable with a stay in solitary, the agreement attempts to make conditions in solitary confinement less brutal, the Times reports. Inmates will now get monthly phone calls, more books, curtains for their toilets, group recreation, and more. Maybe most importantly, prisons will be doing away with "the loaf," a block of potatoes and bread served to inmates in solitary. It's been called "indigestible" and "worse than not eating." The agreement calls for it to be replaced with "regular food." According to the AP, the agreement is likely to face a challenge from the correction officers' union. "We will be monitoring like a hawk to ensure that the reforms are actually carried out," the NYCLU's executive director says. Similar changes to solitary have already been made in Washington, Colorado, and Mississippi.